Paralympian sees Sun Run as way to help youth build community (Vancouver Sun)

March 18, 2021

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VANCOUVER - Paralympian Emily Young remembers the exact day when she realized she would have to give up her beloved sport of wrestling due to injury.

“I was absolutely terrified,” said the 29-year-old Kelowna resident of the “true reality check” she faced. “I was going to be leaving something that I knew so well, like the back of my hand, and had to take a risk and try something new, and I had no idea how it was going to go.”

In 2009, Young dislocated her right elbow and injured her right shoulder, just before the Canada Games. The injury damaged her ulnar nerve from her neck to her fingers and over time, the nerve injury degraded, locking her right elbow and restricting her ability to straighten her arm.

Several rounds of surgery eventually put Young on a challenging road that ultimately would not bring her back to the wrestling mat.

“There was a lot of soul searching. I was lucky to have grown up with so much sport community in my life, that I had to come to a realization that … I wasn’t going to be defined by an injury,” Young told Postmedia about having to leave behind high-level international wrestling.

“But I was going to take all my experiences from sport in general and find another open door that I could direct my energy towards.”

And she certainly has. These days, Young competes in para nordic skiing — and has collected a few Paralympic medals to boot — and has channeled her experiences into inspiring Canadian youth as part of the Classroom Champions program.

The program pairs elite athletes with classrooms across Canada as mentors, using their personal experiences to guide students in discussing healthy living, community and personal development.

This spring, Young will serve as the elite athlete ambassador, running alongside a group of about 50 Classroom Champions youth, in the 2020 Vancouver Sun Run, in the Shaw Mini 2.5-kilometre Sun Run division. It’s an experience Young looks forward to, having enjoyed the experience once upon a time as a child herself.

When asked about advice for youth runners participating in the Sun Run — which is daunting for many adults, let alone youth participating for the first time — Young reiterated the importance of relying on one’s community and pushing forward with commitment.

“When I got offered the opportunity to ski, there was a kind of fork in the road where I had to 100 per cent commit to it to be successful and go as far as I have been able to go — or be stuck in this little whirlpool of surgeries and self-pity,” said Young.

“It’s terrifying, but the risk came with such big benefit, not only with Paralympic medals but also with relationships and personal growth.”

While the Sun Run can be an overwhelming day, with thousands of people running through the streets of Vancouver, Young encouraged youth teams and participants to enjoy the day and rely on community to help them get to the finish line.

“At the end of it, it’s such a cool experience and you meet such good people,” said Young. “There’ll be a lot of people who will see a lot of personal growth but also lots of friendships grow out of it as well.”

The final deadline to register a youth team for the Vancouver Sun Run is March 13, 2020. For more information, visit